A couple of days after we buried our stillborn baby, God spoke to my wife. It was Krista’s first time returning to the grave after we’d buried Avery. As the van rolled up to the cemetery gate, a song started playing on the radio. Krista sat in the vehicle and listened as the artist declared that God does not abandon us in our sorrow. As she began to cry, the lyrics went on to assure her that God holds our tears.1 She hadn’t been asking God to speak to her. God’s voice came unexpectedly.
Krista then went and stood by Avery’s grave, reflecting and praying. When she got back into the van, another song began to play, holding her captive at that spot near the grave. The words of that song reassured her that even though we might feel alone, God holds us in our moments of suffering. Because God cares for the flowers (Matthew 6:28–30) and the sparrows (Matthew 10:29–31), we can be sure that God holds our tomorrows.2
Rather than a word of direction for her future, what Krista needed that day was to hear the words she had heard so many times as a child in Sunday school—that God’s “got the whole world in His hands.”
When God spoke to people in the Bible, it often happened unexpectedly. Abraham, for example, lived with his family in Haran for decades and likely anticipated living there for many years to come. He didn’t seem to have reason to wonder about where to move next, and the Bible doesn’t suggest he was seeking divine direction regarding the matter. Then, out of the blue, God told him, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). So sometimes God’s voice does direct people regarding their future. God’s desire, however, is not to be our free psychic hotline, but to have a close and personal relationship with us. Notice that God spoke to Abraham about more than just where to live. God also told Abraham, “Do not be afraid” (Genesis 15:1).
God speaks for all kinds of reasons. The Lord may speak because we need correction. One time when I was thinking how ignorant someone sounded, God spoke to me by warning me not to be self-righteous about knowledge. Sometimes we need to hear the Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16). At other times God may speak to assure us that even though He isn’t going to change the difficult situation we are in, God’s “grace is sufficient for [us]” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The first time I remember hearing the Spirit speak to me was when I was nine years old. I sat on a hard pew one Sunday morning listening to the guest preacher. As he ended his message, he leaned over the pulpit and asked if anyone would like to dedicate their life to following Jesus. My heart thumped like the back leg of a nervous rabbit. My Sunday school teachers had asked the same thing on more than one occasion, but I had decided to wait until I was older. I wanted the chance to enjoy life awhile longer and sin a little before becoming a believer. Maybe in my 20s, I thought, when it was time to get married. But that Sunday morning the Spirit was urging me not to wait any longer. So I bowed my head and prayed, “God, I want to live my life for Jesus.”
You may not think of yourself as someone who knows the Lord’s voice, but if you’ve had a conversion experience, you’ve heard God speak. You might have even heard God calling you to faith numerous times before you finally became a believer. And I suspect you have heard God in many other ways as well. Have you ever had a verse of Scripture jump out at you? That’s the Spirit speaking through the Bible. When we read the Bible, we don’t just ponder the things the Lord said once upon a time. We are confronted with the very voice of God speaking to us today. The Bible not only teaches us about God and how we should live but also becomes a place where we encounter the living God.
Have you ever heard God speak to you through a sermon or during a time of worship? Have you ever felt a strong urge to pray for someone? Perhaps the Spirit has prompted you to encourage someone by sending them a note or phoning them. Has the Lord ever spoken to you about something you’ve done wrong or were about to do wrong—or am I the only person who hears from God about my sin?
God will speak at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. We have all undoubtedly heard God’s voice many times—we just need to learn to recognize it.
(*This is an excerpt from Dr. Gabriel’s new book, Simply Spirit-Filled: Experiencing God in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit, published by Emanate Books. Used with permission.)
1. Dan Bremnes, “In His Hands” from the album Where the Light Is, Sparrow Records, 2015.
2. Jason Gray, “Sparrows,” from the album, Where the Light Gets In, Centricity Music, 2016.
Andrew K. Gabriel, PhD, is associate professor of theology and vice-president of academics at Horizon College and Seminary in Saskatoon, Sask. You can follow Dr. Gabriel’s blog at www.andrewkgabriel.com. This article appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.